Edited by Kathy Ice
Published by Harper Prism, 1995
|And the award for "Dullest cover in the entire canon" goes to...|
Confession time... I tend not to like the Magic anthologies all that much. In my eyes the best Magic stories have good characterization, interesting worldbuilding and links to the larger continuity, three things that short stories found in the anthologies often lack. They are simply too short to excite much interest in the characters or the setting. The later anthologies, published by Wizards themselves, sometimes get around this by using established settings like Mirage or Ice Age, or even by taking a known character like Urza or Barrin as their lead. Even then though, we'll see a whole lot of stuff completely unrelated to the rest of continuity, featuring absolute nobody characters and referencing maybe one random card, if you're lucky. As for the two Harper Prism anthologies, I went in fearing the worst. Even continuity references couldn't save these stories, I reckoned, as there simply was no continuity to reference at this point.
But let's get to the individual stories to see if my suspicions are correct!
Written by Carla Montgomery
Kyree, a member of a barbarian tribe that utilizes flight spells, has to nick something valuable from a tomb as a rite of passage. Lifting an Ivory Cup summons a Serra Angel who chases her. She loses the cup, but when she wakes up she discovers she's still clutching a Serra Angel feather, which is much more valued macguffin in the eyes of her tribe.
We start of with an okay story. It's decently written, has ties to pretty much nothing in the canon and a twist ending... In other words, it's pretty much exactly what I was expecting from an anthology story.
What's in a name?
Written by Michael A. Stackpole
This is the first story featuring Loot Niptil, who will also appear in the Distant Planes anthology. Both happen somewhere where planeswalkers regularly do battle, and where towns have sprung up populated entirely by summoned creatures abandoned after the duels. The local pub is run by an Ironroot Treefolk called Grover, it's that kind of story. Loot Niptil is a wizard with amnesia, having no idea about his identity before he was summoned. He is picked up by a group of Cat Warriors, who see him as their loot, and dub him "Nipped Tail", for he is a human, and thus without a tail. Hence the bastardization "Loot Niptil". This story has a bunch of kobolds forcing Loot to do their bidding. They want to steal some items from a tomb, but the items are cursed so that if you remove them they will bring ruin to "all of your name". The kobolds reckon Loot doesn't have a name, and can thus get around the curse. But Loot does have a name, so now all the loot is cursed and the kobols die.
Loot Niptil is one of the few characters from these anthologies who are somewhat well known in the community. I must say though, having finally read this story... I don't get why he is so popular. The character is fun enough, and the setting is funny in theory, but the plot is just a bit dumb. The twist resolution is neither particularly clever, nor very funny. Plus the setting is really rather unfortunate if we try to place the story in continuity. If planeswalkers really summon actual people, rather than AEther copies, that would completely disjoint societies like Benalia or Hurloon. Most stories gloss over this, but this story highlights the problem. Heck, an ally of Loot is summoned halfway through the story and just never comes back! It's clear why they phased out this kind of summoning later on in the storyline. These earlier stories are still there though, so we're just going to have to live with it. Presumably some planeswalkers just prefer summoning real creatures over AEther copies? Or perhaps it's just the young ones who do that. Older ones realize that when you're immortal you're best of not relying on mortal creatures. Otherwise you'll end up like that Chumbawamba character from Final Sacrifice, who tried to summon a barbarian, only to conjure a pile of bones.
One interesting thing though: there is mention of the ruins of a Sarpadian outpost nearby, which suggests that wherever this takes place, it must be close to the setting of Fallen Empires. The fact that the Benalia is around at this point, means this story takes place after the Ice Age, though. Therefore people have assumed that this story is a rare glimpse of post-Fallen Empires Sarpadia! However, considering the ruins are said to be a Sarpadian outpost, and that the setting isn't overran with thrulls, suggests to me that it's not Sarpadia proper but an island nearby.
|Pictured above: our only real source on post-Ice Age Sarpadia|
The Brass Man who would Sink
By Hanovi Braddock
This story is written as a fable. A boy is being forced into marrying a local noblewoman but is told he can get out of it if he can do impossible tasks, like tilling an entire field in a day. He finds a Brass Man who helps him, completing all the tasks. The Brass Man asks if he's allowed to "sink into hell" after each chore, but the boy's love interests keeps saying no. Then eventually the noblewoman takes the boy and the Brass Man away. Now the boy finally gives the Man permission to sink, and it drags the noblewoman down with him.
I'll be blunt, I don't like the fable-style this is written in. We get the same sequence over and over again (boy gets task, Brass Man helps, Brass Man asks whether he can sink, is denied) and it gets old quick. It overstays its welcome, even at just 12 pages.
One interesting thing though: this story is said to happen before the rise of the Null Moon, which would make it pre-Thran! The style does make me wonder if we should count it as an actual story, or just a fable told on Dominaria, but I'm a "include as much stuff as possible!" kind of guy, so I'll put it on the timeline with a little qualifier.
|No idea how this guy ended up on Dominaria from Rabiah. Blame it on the planeswalkers.|
By S. D. Perry
Uhm... So... this girl lives in a village with only boys and women. When the boys grow older they get sick and are quarantined until they die. But then the girl starts having visions, and it turns out that all the children are actually children of the Rag Man, who is... some... demon thing or something? And they don't actually get sick and die, but they turn into Rag Men themselves? Then the girl is visited by her Rag Daddy, and turns into whatever he is herself and it is somehow significant that she's the only daughter of the Rag Man? I think?
Oh I don't know. This story is so deliberately vague that I can't for the life of me work out what is going on. I can't recommend this one. On top of that, the Rag Man as a sort off demonic entity (Maybe an Incubus, if he impregnated all these women?) annoys me as well, since The Gathering Dark suggested he's some kind of undead.
There is no proof of when this happened, but the Rag Man and the mention of Scarwood Goblins suggests it's during the dark. If the is true, it's interesting that Samites are already mentioned. And that is the most positive thing I can say about this story.
Gathering the Taradomnu
By Mark Shepherd
We're in a Llanowar Elfhame! Finally a place I recognize! An elvish princess, called Terena, has to go to a distant corner of Llanowar to gather Taradomnu root to cure her father, who was poisoned by her power-hungry brother. On the way she first meets a human boy who's family was killed by her xenophobic brother and then kills the brother when he confronts her. Getting back to the Elfhame she discovers she's too late and her dad is already dead, but because of Llanowar inheritance law the throne will go to the kids of her now-dead brother, since she has no kids herself. TWIST ENDING: she boinked the boy she met on her adventure and is now pregnant, which allows her to take the throne anyway! Her wise old mentor faints upon learning that the next in line to the throne is going to be a half-human hybrid. Cue laugh track.
Again, fine, inoffensive. It keeps my interest a bit more than Thief's Flight since Llanowar is a more established setting. It's fun to see the story where the concept of the forest being divided into Elfhames comes from. The ending is a bit silly, but I was glad that at least it was a twist I didn't see coming. Since Terena suspects her brother immediately, and the story continues for a few pages after she kills him, I was expecting a twist like "It wasn't your brother who poisoned the king after all, it was I, your wise old mentor!". So at least it surprised me.
What I didn't like was a throwaway line saying that Terena's brother wanted to sell the boy into slavery to a man with a harem of boys. Such a line is fine on its own, but between this and the Suder lord from Prodigal Sorcerer, that means there are a grand total of three gay characters in all of the Magic canon, two of which are pedophilic rapists. I'm always game for more diversity in Magic anyway, but now I really hope that the next block is going to introduce at least a cycle of five nice gay people, just to balance out the unpleasantness of these early days. When I started this project I expected to find cool, long-forgotten storyline nuggets and to discover the origins of certain long held bits of continuity. I did not expect to uncover Magic's secret homophobic past.
Smoke and Mirrors
By Ben Ohlander
Commander Grindstable has to take a citadel in order to conquer the valley beyond. Since she's working for a stereotypical evil warlord who always kills failing underlings she enlists the help of some dwarves. TWIST ENDING: the dwarves use to much explosives and blow up the entire citadel, blocking access to the valley completely! Cue waaah-waaah-waaaaaaaaah music.
Dreadful. It's an attempt at humor that falls completely flat. The main joke is worth half a page at most, not 16 bloody pages of set up! There is some supposedly "funny" stuff along the way, but is just painful. One of the dwarves is a bit deaf, and thinks Grindstable is talking about the weather instead of the demolition plans! Hahaha, that is so funny! The other dwarf doesn't like Grindstable and keeps mispronouncing her name as Brimstample or Bramstoker! Hahaha, that's even funny- NO ITS NOT! Bramstoker? That doesn't even begin to sound like Grindstable! This is just stupid! Stupid, unfunny, overly long, not recommended. NEXT!
The Light in the
By Michael Scott
An aging mercenary called Dolena fears she wont be able to work soon, since her eyesight is fading. While guarding a caravan she notices something odd in the forest and goes to investigate. A younger mercenary follows her, hoping to kill her and take whatever she finds. Turns out what they find is a mysterious monolith that reverses aging. The bad guy is so entranced by it that he stays there to long and is regressed into a puddle of protoplasm. Dolena herself gets away with her eyesight and vitality restored.
Man this was a breath of fresh air after that last story. It still falls under the "not tied to anything so why bother" heading, but at least it had some very good build-up and atmosphere. Also, kudos for the original main character. An again mercenary worried about her failing eyesight? You don't see that very often
By David M. Honigsberg
Dochyel is a goblin kid who grows up to be the best rock sledder there is, even though the whole of goblin society looks down on the rock sledders. But then he convinces old war hero Pashalik Mons to back his scheme to improved sleds so they can house more people, thus bringing raiders to the front line sooner. Suddenly the goblin offensives are much more effective. The story ends with Dochyel seeing young goblins play, and unlike in his youth kids actually want to play sledders, not just raiders, which brings a smile to his face.
Pretty cute story. I think it's nice how it humanises goblins a little. Very appropriate that these Rundtveld goblins are referred to in Ashes of the Sun, which was all about humanizing goblins. (Tapestries was published between Final Sacrifice and
) I was also
pleased to discover that there actually is a story featuring Pashalik Mons, of Cursed Land by the way, so it predates a lot of stuff I´ve reviewed already. 's Goblin Riders
fame. Also pretty cool: the Rundtveld are said to be the only goblins who have
gobbos dedicated to teaching the "old ways", and thus the only ones
who use Rocksleds and War Drums. This explains the difference between these guys and the goblins elsewhere in the story, and is referenced both in Ashes of the Sun and a Duelist article (which we'll get to eventually)! Mons
Heart of Shanodin
An assassin and a knight are heading for the Heart of Shanodin, since a guy who crossed their leader, the evil king Amjad, fled there. Turns out the Heart of Shanodin brings out someones "inner self", thus the guy they are after turned into a religious fanatic and the knight turns from his grim, brutal self back into what he once was: a peaceful wrestler from Oneah! The knight completely forgets about their mission and falls in love with a local dryad. The assassin's "inner self" turns out to be an actor, so he can still be whomever he wants, and he wants to be an assassin. He kills the dude they were send to kill, and then kills the dryad as well, in order to get his stoic and evil companion back. It works, and the two head back to Amjad to do more evil deeds.
This story looks really odd when I summarize it like this, but it is actually pretty cool. The slow build up works well, the twist with the assassin is nice, and the ending, though bleak, is interesting. This is the first story in this book where I wished there were more stories about these characters, since they are rather engaging.
In addition, this story has some cool continuity references. The main on ovisouly being Oneah! This is actually the first mention of this fallen civilization. It must have struck a chord with someone on the editorial team, since later large parts of Ashes of the Sun will revolve around the memory of Oneah, and it gets referenced in Distant Planes as well!
Also interesting is the fact that the evil king is called Amjad. Maps of Aerona show Amjad as a kingdom, but the guy does sound like someone who would name his kingdom after himself, so I'm not counting that as an error.
By M.C. Sumner
This story was printed in The Duelist #4, then copied onto the Duelist Online website, from which MORT copied it onto MTGSalvation. It's not that long, so... just go read it!
Another fun, inoffensive, twist-ending-y story. The most interesting thing I can say about it is that it is clear that continuity wasn't entirely hammered out yet as this point. One character is referred to as "the trader from Keldon", rather than "the trader from Keld". Luckily it's not a big continuity issue though, we could just say our main character sucks at geography.
|Not really a trader, but there aren't a lot of non-aggressive Keldon arts.|
The Theft of Bayende, Heart and Soul
By Billie Sue Mosiman
A wizard, Thane Du-Morris IV, has set up a land of peace and settled down with a wife, Bayende. But then an old rival tracks him down and murders his pregnant wife. Thane spends the next 17 years tracking down his opponent, Noranda-Zang, and kills his son in return, leaving Noranda devastated. Thane feels no joy though, just more misery, knowing that he and Noranda are going to be at war forever.
This sounds like a simple story from my summary, but this is actually a really important story continuity-wise, and on top of that is is just damn good. It is grim beyond all belief, but it is supposed to be, and conveys the emotion perfectly. It spends just enough time introducing Bayende for it to impact when she's killed, and has great characterization. You really feel the dread of Thane when he gets home and realizes something is wrong. I also liked that this one didn't have a twist. I was al ready for Noranda to go "the guy you just killed was actually YOUR OWN son! Bwahaha". But no, it's just a bleak ending in which revenge solves nothing. The only real problem I have with this story is that it is interspersed with real world quotes. Like I said in the And Peace Shall Sleep review, good fantasy stories suck you into their world, and to then suddenly walk into quotes from Benjamin Disraeli, William Bolitho and Aleister Crowly break immersion.
Having talked about the story in general, there are two sentences I wish to highlight. Number one:
"He walked the planes without having the title of planeswalker. He scurried out of sight when the true gods passed him. It had taken every drop of his knowledge in order to travel the way he did, but it was worth it."
WELL THEN. Remember when I spoke at length about pre-rev planeswalkers in the FinalSacrifice review? Turns out that was a complete waste of time, since this story solves all the continuity problems for me! Non-planeswalkers can walk the planes. Boom. Done. It's an odd bit of continuity that never gets referenced again (and is most certainly no longer true post-Mending), but it solves the puzzle completely. Especially that line about Gods. Clearly Kuthuman and Greensleeves, who were referred to as godlike, are proper planeswalkers and anyone else claiming to walk the planes who doesn't show godlike powers is doing so Thane-style. That also explains how Greensleeves could get to Phyrexia before her ascension! This continuity fixing alone would've been enough to make me love this story if it hadn't been any good.
That other sentence? Well, let me put it this way: what do you think of when I say Magic related horror and gore? Something Phyrexian? Macabre Waltz? Ad Nauseam is pretty freaky, right? Well, how about this line, just after Thane has found his murdered wife:
"Where...? His child...? Torn asunder and half-eaten it lay like a small ball of refuse beneath the leaded window"
SWEET MOTHER OF LORD! A foetus dragged from its mother's womb and EATEN? Magic is never ever going to top that in goriness ever again!
By Cynthia Ward
An old elf tells a bunch of refugees from a guy called the Wizard Tyrant about his origin. Turns out two elves discovered how to draw mana from the land, destroying the land in the process. (before that everyone apparently only drew mana from themselves, thus none of the Magic users lived over 30. Whatever pane this is happening on, magic is dangerous here!) They used their magic responsibly, but their kid turns out to be... well basically Joffrey Baratheon but with night-ominpotent magical abilities. TWIST ENDING: The old elf telling her story is actually young, just weathered with magic use, and is the granddaughter of the Wizard Tryant. She vows to kill him with her magic, and the refugees cheer. The end.
Of all the stories in this book, this is the one that most makes me say "what is the point?" the loudest. It's all just set up for a story that is never going to be told. It's not even written well, it's basically a huge info dump about this guy no one cares about.
By Morgan Llywelyn
An old hermit has spend his entire life learning Magic, but he never succeeded. Every time he got close he got scared and backed of. Then a dryad turns up to seduce him. He finally gives in to the call of magic, and disappears.
Eh... yeah. Written quite well, you really feel for this guy who has wasted his entire life, but... pointless and with a vague ending, which I personally don't like. But it's only 7 pages, so it simply doesn't last long enough to get annoying.
By S.M. Sterling
A Black Knight ends up in the region of Gurdrungs, where he runs into a mourning Hurloon Minotaur. The minotaur and his mate were summoned in a planeswalkers duel and she got killed by a Stone Giant. The knight helps with the lamentation ritual (which, since these are Hurloon, involves telling the deceased's life story in excruciating detail over several days. I love how consistently these pre-rev sources are portraying the Hurloon as bad-ass but long-winded!). The two then plan to go and kill the Stone Giant in return. (The Knight remarking that he's not doing it out of compassion, he just likes fighting.) But then the Knight is summoned by his planeswalker, Thomil, for a duel! And his new minotaur friend is summoned by the opposing planeswalker! The knight kills minotaur, sings the lament for his friend, and then goes and kills the Stone Giant anyway.
Another one that is pretty cool, though a bit pointless. I liked the characterization of the black knight though. Good to see a black character that isn't entirely evil! The quick mention of Thomil, who we saw way back in my first review, is also awesome. There is one continuity issue though, but it is so preposterously small that I can forgive it: the minotaur wears boots. And in Ashes of the Sun Ayesh was surprised to see the Mirtiin minotaurs wear boots, since the Hurloon don't. I don't think anyone would've caught that unless they were reading all the books in one go! I guess this specific minotaur is just a bit special.
Oh, and one final thing: the order the black knight belongs to is called the "Schwartzritterein". Which means that the black knights don't have much imagination and are German. That's now canon.
Airborne All the Way!
By David Drake
A wizard's aide oversees the setting up of a goblin balloon brigade, but because of the stupidity of the goblins she ends up in the balloon as it takes off, fights the enemy and then crashes.
This David Drake guy gets mentioned on the cover? Wikipedia tells me he is "one of the major authors of the military science fiction genre" and credited as co-author on the Belisarius series, which I have never read but heard is a big deal. So perhaps he's a big name? But all I've read of him is this story, and good lord is it a stinker. It has one joke: goblins are stupid. Stupid to the point of just not having a short term memory. They forget their orders, they can't understanding why there are no more rocks inside their balloon after they've chucked them all at the enemies down below, that level of stupid. Now, Magic has made to "goblins are stupid" joke often, and often it's rather funny. When you first saw
and read the flavor text, it probably made you chuckle. Now imagine that
flavor text copy-pasted again and again and again, until it fills 12 pages. How
quickly would you get bored of that? Exactly. That is what this story
feels like. Don't read this. Goblin Balloon Bridge
The only interesting thing here is that the wizard the aide and the goblins are working for is called Malfegor. No relation though.
Not Just Another Green World
By Peter Friend
Two people find an injured person they've never seen before. They say he doesn't look "human", but from the descriptions sprinkled throughout the story you start to realize the stranger actually does look human, while the locals are more like sapient squirrels. It turns out that this guy, Alzarakh, is a planeswalker (Not sure if it's supposed to be a planeswalker-planeswalker, or a Thane-style planeswalker. I'm guessing the second option) from Dominaria, but fled after a duel. He's seems nice, if a bit of a braggart, until he teaches one of the local kids how to summon an Ironroot Treefolk. The kid is promptly incinerated by a fireball send by whomever Alzarakh dueled back home. The fireball is apparently send from the other plane, since no 'walker actually turns up. The locals believe that Alzarakh did this on purpose, since now whomever he fought think he's dead, since the kid was casting HIS spell. So the locals, who so far have been portrayed as cutesy creatures who "just" use green nature magic brutally murder Alzarakh.
Another "PLOT TWIST!" story, but a fun one. Since Green was the worst color in Magic for such a long time, it deserves a "we can be brutal as well!" story like this. Other than that, fine and inoffensive, as you've heard many times by now. Maybe MaRo should read this story so he can use it in his crusade to bring Squirrels back to Magic.
The Going Price
By Sonia Orin Lyris
Three dwarves find a bunch of dragon eggs, and start selling them to a guy called Reod Dai, who... hey, wait a minute!
Jup, this story was later used as the basis of the novel And Peace Shall Sleep, which we'vealready covered. This story is copied almost word-for-word as chapter two of that book. There are a few minor rewrites though. Mostly just to make stuff sound better. "she bought him an expensive drink" is turned into "she bought him too much hot wine", which is a better line since it is more descriptive, and thus better world building. There is also a line removed about elder dragons, which I assume is because of continuity reasons. The original makes it sound like elders are just old dragons, but by the time And Peace Shall Sleep came out it had been established that Elder Dragons are actually a specific race of dragons and the ancestors of all other types. I've talked about the history of the Elders in this article.
The only big difference between The Going Price and And Peace Shall Sleep is that this story ends with Reod Dai admitting to the dwarven mother that he was casting a seduction spell, which he keeps a secret in the book. I guess that makes this the first story to be stricken from continuity by a later replacement!
Most of these stories have little ties to anything, so I´ll probably put them in the "generic present" of "about 4000 years after the Brothers' War", but after some comments on my timeline I plan on writing an overview of the Harper Prism stories when I've done the final review next week, and I'll get into more detail there. The timeline is starting to look a bit cluttered, so I may give it an overhaul soon anyway.
Obviously The Going Price (if you still count it as canon) happens around the time of Fallen Empires (~170 AR), The Brass Man Who Would Sink (if you count it as actual history) happens sometime before the Thran (so before ~ -5000 AR), and Inherritance sounds like it should happen in The Dark (~300 AR).
For the most part Tapestries met my somber expectations. Many of these stories just reference a single card, and since most those references come from Alpha, you really are just getting generic fantasy stories about random orcs, dwarves and minotaurs. Several of the writers struggle with fitting characterization or a story arc in the limited amount of pages they get, and thus plumb for a comedy piece (at least, they attempt to write comedy) or Twilight Zone style twist endings. Most of the stories are fine, but they ultimately left me cold. Fantasy stories without an epic scope, Magic stories without links to the larger canon... what's the point?
Luckily, there are a few unexpected points of interest here. A number of things introduced in these stories were later picked up upon in other Harper Prism novels or in the Encyclopedia Dominia stories, thus retroactively giving these stories ties to larger continuity. Some of the stories feature locations I've seen on the map of Aerona, so it was cool to finally discover the stories behind those places. Theft of Bayende even solved one of the major continuity issues of the Harper Prism era! These things helped with keeping my interest, so reading Tapestries wasn't a complete chore, but on the whole it didn't change my opinion of Magic anthologies, I'm afraid.